Rightfully so, much has been made of the alarming recent news surrounding climate change. In an effort to spearhead the shift desperately needed to save our planet, Lily Kwong, former model turned artist and landscape designer, has created a multi-sensory experience designed to help humans heal their connection to nature.
"The political fight is ugly, the climate solutions complex, the headlines harrowing," Kwong tells PAPER. "If people can start feeling the power of nature again my hope is they will become stewards, they will change their behavior, and they will begin cultivating their own backyards."
Fittingly, Kwong partnered with Visionaire to launch "Summer In Winter," a 1,000-square-foot botanical garden that doubles as an outdoor classroom of sorts. Located in downtown Manhattan's Cadillac House space, it is designed as a study of opposites. Where and how does rich plant wildlife fit into urban cityscapes?
The landscape Kwong made comprises diverse plant life spanning 37 countries across Earth's seven continents, "including ferns from Australia, flowering plants from the tropical Americas, rainforest trees considered sacred by Buddhists, succulents native to Southern Africa, and cycads known as living fossils," according to a statement announcing the project.
Cecilia Dean, Visionaire's co-founder immediately took to the urgency of Kwong's project in relation to climate change.
"Not only is 'Summer in Winter' a destination for a sensory experience, but it is also a learning experience through the filter of Lily," Dean tells PAPER. "I thought of this idea of 'Summer in Winter' as a reaction to climate change. NYC winters seem harder and harder and a respite seemed necessary. At the same time, we're creating a paradise that is unfathomable in the natural world."
Kwong opens up about sustainability, social responsibility, and how we can more effectively create environmental change. See exclusive photos of the garden, below.
You've defined your mission to reconnect people to nature. In a world of increasing awareness around climate change, especially with recent reports, why is connecting to the land important now than ever before?
Where I feel I can contribute the most is re-establishing an emotional connection to nature. My hope is to make people remember there is a geology underneath the concrete, a conversation happening among plant life, a relationship to heal between human beings and the natural world. The political fight is ugly, the climate solutions complex, the headlines harrowing... if people can start feeling the power of nature again my hope is they will become stewards, they will change their behavior, and they will begin cultivating their own backyards. I believe connecting people to the land is the most important thing we can do right now because it connects us to all living things and ultimately to ourselves. A relationship with the natural world can help teach us those universal, timeless lessons that are the keys to our preservation.
"A relationship with the natural world can help teach us those universal, timeless lessons that are the keys to our preservation."
How did you go about designing the landscape in a way that was ethically and socially responsible?
I source my plants from family growers — horticulturalists who have passed their nurseries through generations, treat their workers with respect and take pride in cultivating their land. People often ask me where the plants go after my temporal installations - I always have an exit strategy and for this piece we're planning a community giveaway where visitors can come de-install the garden and take a piece of "Summer in Winter" home with them. It took me ten years in New York to finally get the resources and opportunities to create my work and I'm acutely aware of how difficult it is for women and people of color to get a seat at the table, so I try where possible to empower a diverse range of creators. Gary Gunn is a longtime collaborator of mine, a brilliant composer who created the haunting soundscape, Aya Rodriguez-Izumi is an artist of Cuban/Puerto Rican/Okinawan descent who will be creating a fabric installation for the Cadillac House window in December and my installation team was 100% women doing the heavy lifting for the planted elements except for a few wonderful male volunteers. To me, this is social responsibility — my team is as diverse and far-reaching as the planting palette of this installation.
"My mission is to create stewards, activists and more plant people who are willing to take up arms in making our cities greener and our world more sustainable."
In your opinion, how do natural settings inform one's overall well-being, whether mentally, spiritually, or otherwise?
In my opinion, natural settings are the key to improving overall well-being in urban life. I believe as the world population urbanizes, landscape architecture has to lead the urban planning of the future. As human beings we innately crave a connection to nature, it makes us who we are and grounds us in the larger ecosystem. The studies back me up: exposure to nature has been proven to boost immune system functions, reduce blood pressure, improve mood and focus, and increase energy and creativity.
"Summer in Winter" is on view from now through January 16 at Cadillac House, located at 330 Hudson Street in downtown Manhattan.
Photography: Plamen Petkov